MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Switching gears here. OK, so the summer travel season is behind us, but Thanksgiving is going to be here soon enough. So air travelers, listen up. There is new information that could save you from catching a cold on your trip. As NPR's Michaeleen Doucleff reports, the key may be washing your hands before you even get to the gate.
MICHAELEEN DOUCLEFF, BYLINE: The new advice is based on a very simple experiment at the international airport in Helsinki. Researchers took little q tips and run them over various surfaces in the airport - so things like the handrails, the buttons on the elevator, even the toilet flusher. Then they took the samples back to the airport and looked for signs of respiratory viruses like the flu and the common cold. One surface at the airport popped up as a hotspot for these viruses - the plastic bins at the security line.
MARK GENDREAU: These trays are not, you know, cleaned after every use. And you've got thousands of people going through these lines on any given day.
DOUCLEFF: That's Dr. Mark Gendreau from Beverly and Addison Gilbert Hospital in Massachusetts. Gendreau specializes in aviation medicine and wasn't involved in the study. He says it was published recently in BMC Infectious Diseases. And he points out that it was very, very small. The researchers took only 90 samples across the entire airport, and they were only looking for respiratory viruses, not for stomach bugs. But Gendreau says the conclusion of the study matches up with previous ones here in the U.S. In particular, one study at Boston Logan International Airport tried to pinpoint disease hotspots in the airport. Guess what was at the top of the list? The security line.
GENDREAU: You have people from all over the world congregating in that area. That geographic diversity of people is incredible.
DOUCLEFF: So it's crowded. There can be poor ventilation. And you've got the potential for diseases from all over the world meeting in that one spot. So what should people do after they come out of security?
GENDREAU: No. 1, you've got to sanitize those hands.
DOUCLEFF: Use gel hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol. Or go the old-fashioned route and wash with soap and water. Either way...
GENDREAU: The rubbing of your hands has to be at least 25 seconds. You've got to have some friction in there to disrupt the cellular membrane of the micro organism in order to activate it.
DOUCLEFF: Finally, he says, be mindful of not touching your face before you disinfect your hands.
GENDREAU: Eighty percent of all infectious diseases are transmitted by human hands.
DOUCLEFF: Your hands touch something like a security bin, then you touch your nose or mouth. And the next thing you know, you're fighting off a nasty cold. Michaeleen Doucleff, NPR News.
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